Another Picture

February 9, 2010

Smart car parked in Paris

I’d never seen a Smart car until we visited Paris a couple of years ago. The thing that most fascinated me was the fact that the length of the car was just about the same as its width. Therefore, one could park it as shown in the photo above, or simply pull straight up against the curb. The straight-on approach allowed the driver to park in a narrower spot and not have to worry about getting out of the spot… getting out of the car might be the bigger problem.

I thought we were pretty smart in 2007 when we bought our Toyota Yaris. In fact, I still think we were pretty smart. It consistently gives us around 40 miles per gallon (4 cylinder gasoline engine – not a hybrid) and, thus far, has not had the gas pedal stick nor the brake pedal fail to bring the vehicle to a safe stop.

My guess is that the market will soon be flooded with Toyotas and the CEO may be found a victim of Harry Carey… although I thought he died some years ago… Harry, that is; not the Toyota executive.

Would I buy another Yaris? In a heartbeat! Especially if the problems make the price much more reasonable. In fact, I would take a long hard look at the Camry and other models. Gas pedals and brakes can be fixed. High interest, long term car payments are something I’d rather avoid.

Lots of people buy the expensive luxury cars. One of my older brothers bought a 1959 Cadillac… in 1959! He traded in a perfectly good 1958 Oldsmobile and, before long, regretted the decision.

Our parents thought he was crazy the minute he arrived home in his new car. When they learned how much he paid for it, any doubts they might have had quickly vanished.

Can you imagine? He paid $6,500 for that car. In 1942, our parents had paid $6,200 for the three bedroom house we were living in. How could an automobile (or “machine” as our mom called it) cost more than a house?

Compared to the other cars various family members owned, the Cadillac was a wonder to behold. It had power windows that went up and down when a button was pressed… until something went wrong with the wiring and they no longer moved.

The car had a device on the dashboard that sensed the headlights of on-coming cars and automatically switched to low-beams until it quit working.

The car had a radio antenna that automatically went up when the radio was turned on… until the motor in it burned out.

That car spent more time at the dealer’s maintenance shop than it did on the road. But it sure looked nice!

After a year or so of constant electrical malfunctions, my brother traded it in for a brand new 1960 Buick convertible.

Anyone who has gone through a similar series of cars is either rich, or, like my brother, digging a constantly deepening hole of debt. Each time he traded for something new, the total cost was more than the value of the car; he had to include the remaining cost of the old car in the loan for the new one.

Late in 1960, it caught up with him. He had to sell the Buick (at a loss) and concentrate on paying off the loan for cars he no longer owned. That’s when he bought a used 1955 Chevy. It took him two years to get out of debt. When he did, he bought a more sensible 1962 Chevy.

Perhaps my watching him is what keeps me from buying the luxury models. In high school I dreamed of having a metallic blue Corvette. The fanciest car I’ve ever owned was a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass. I’m perfectly content in viewing automobiles as forms of transportation for getting from point A to point B.

When the Smart car was first introduced in the states, I gave serious thought to getting one. However, the price tag was about twice what my Yaris cost and the gas mileage was about twenty-five percent less.

Needless to say, I’m smart enough to own something other than the Smart car. Of course, I wouldn’t mind driving one… just for the experience.

Then again, if I’m going to drive something “just for the experience” I’d prefer a metallic blue Corvette. Forget gas mileage!


Cap & Trade or Michael Jackson

July 7, 2009

Regardless of which side of the issue you’re on, it should bother you that the news media is spending far more time keeping the American people up to date on the Michael Jackson memorial service than they are in informing us of the progress of the Cap & Trade legislation.

And why are they placing so much emphasis on a dead celebrity? Why are they ignoring more important issues that could affect all tax payers?

Some right wing conservatives would have us believe that the left leaning media is intentionally taking the focus away from Congress so the Obama administration can shove another giant spending (and taxing) bill down our throats.

The left wing radicals would argue otherwise.

Naturally – and unfortunately – the truth has nothing to do with politics. Sadly, the media is giving the American public what the American public wants. I’ll admit I haven’t checked, but I’d bet that any broadcast of the American Idol show garnered a much larger share of the viewing public than any of the Presidential debates.

The truth is a large portion of our population doesn’t care about what goes on in Washington, D.C. In fact, they care even less about what goes on in their own state capitols.

Many years ago I attended a Key Club convention in Philadelphia. Each delegate was given a key ring. On one side was the Key Club logo. On the other was the phrase, “Combat Complacency.”

I believe we’ve lost the battle. In the 1960’s, college students stood up and voiced their opinions. While many of them were wrong in their beliefs, they all had the courage to stand up for what they believed. As a result, many things in our society were changed.

The youth of my youth took the time to learn about things that mattered. Sometimes they heard one side of the story and jumped to incorrect conclusions, but in most instances, they looked at both sides and came to good logical conclusions.

I’m afraid today’s youth are too busy twittering their lives away.

Perhaps that’s the major difference. While we didn’t have CNN, FOX News Channel, C-SPAN, or… come to think of it, we didn’t have any cable channels because we didn’t have cable. We also didn’t have lap top computers and the Internet. But we did have newspapers, news magazines, and the library.

We paid attention to the world around us – sweat bullets during the Cuban Missile Crisis – and felt a responsibility to speak out against what we saw as injustice.

Perhaps that was the influence of John F. Kennedy. I know we all admired the man and took the “New Frontier” very seriously. And we all deeply mourned his passing.

Until President Obama came along, we hadn’t had another President who could reach out and stir the interest of the youth as JFK did. But it appears that the interest of our current youth petered out once their man was elected.

It’s a shame because, the way I see it, it’s the youth and future generations who will be most harmed by what is currently happening in Washington.

The U.S. Government has no business being in business. Every time government has taken over an industry, that industry stops being self-sufficient. For example, independent bus and trolley companies operated in major cities for decades. They competed for riders and most of those companies were profitable.

The companies that couldn’t compete went out of business and their assets were bought up by the other companies. Then, the government decided to take over. The two ‘companies’ I’m most familiar with – the Port Authority Transit (PAT) in Pittsburgh and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit  Authority (MARTA) – have both operated at a loss for decades. Taxpayer subsidies are the only way they stay afloat.

Will General Motors be any different? Will taxpayer subsidized pricing put Ford, Chrysler, and others out of business?

The Federal Government has put itself in a very awkward position. Congress is talking about passing a ‘clunker bill’ that will give citizens a tax break for trading in an old car for a new, more fuel efficient, car. Will the tax break be higher for those of us who buy a GM product? It would make sense if the government wants their ‘company’ to flourish.

But wouldn’t that be unfair to the other companies? Does the government care?

There are many people who believe the economic crisis could’ve been solved months ago simply by the government letting workers keep their entire paychecks. Think about that. The typical worker has almost a third of his or her paycheck withheld every pay day. If that money had been available to the individuals, they would’ve spent it. Even if they simply paid off some bills, the economy would’ve improved.

Foreclosures would’ve been reduced dramatically and banks would’ve had more money for other loans. Consumers would’ve bought more cars, televisions, and other big ticket items… which would’ve resulted in more jobs.

If consumers bought Fords and Toyotas rather than Chevys and Buicks, GM would’ve had to fix their problems or go out of business. With increased sales, the other auto makers would’ve been able to buy GM factories and put the former GM employees to work building other makes of cars.

Is it too late for the government to get out of the auto business? I hope not. And while they’re at it, they should also get out of the banking and investment businesses.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s time for MARTA and PAT to liquidate and let the private sector show the politicians how it should be done.

Considering the business acumen of most politicians, it wouldn’t take a business genius to repair the damage done by congress. Think of it! How many politicians have held a ‘real’ job during their adult life. There may be a few, but most of them were borderline lawyers who recognized they could make a lot more money supporting the causes of special interest groups.

If they were intelligent enough to be successful business people, why would they even consider becoming a member of Congress?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and see if Michael has been buried yet.